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Loose leaf pickup won’t begin until January when new highway superintendent takes office

Riverhead Town will not begin its loose leaf pickup until Jan. 3, instead of the usual late November date, a move that will coincide with the departure of longtime highway superintendent George “Gio” Woodson, who did not seek reelection last fall and who had opposed picking up leaves this year as well as in past years. 

Mike Zaleski, the new highway superintendent, who takes office on Jan. 1, was the deputy superintendent chosen by Mr. Woodson, although Mr. Woodson has run for office as a Democrat and Mr. Zaleski did so as a Republican last fall.

Mr. Zaleski said he agreed to pick up loose leaves at the curbside, but not without some conditions, such as an independent arbiter — such as the state comptroller or the attorney general — to decide whether leaf pickup is the responsibility of the highway department or the Town Board.

“I’m in a weird situation,” Mr. Zaleski said, “being the current deputy with Gio, who obviously did not support picking loose leaves up. He raised valid points that I am seriously looking into, such as the whole question of whether it’s a town highway function or is it a courtesy.”

The Town Board had feuded with Mr. Woodson for years on this issue.

On Nov. 10, the Town Board passed a resolution to “direct and require [the] highway superintendent to perform loose leaf pickup pursuant to and at similar schedules as performed for past decades for the benefit of town residents and maintenance and safety of roadways throughout the town.”

The resolution calls for the leaf pickup to be completed by the end of November. 

Mr. Zaleski said he’s “walking into a leaf mess. There’s going to be leaves on the streets because people are still putting them out there.”

Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar sent out a press release indicating that the highway department has always picked up loose leaves. The Town Board has maintained that they have records dating back to the 1960s to show this.

“We apologize for the delay and appreciate your patience,” she wrote. “The pickup of yard waste will continue while loose leaves are being collected and is a much quicker process.”

The supervisor said people can also still put leaves in paper waste bags and they can place tree branches under 4 feet long at curbside to be picked up on regularly scheduled yard-waste collection days. 

“Gio has refused to do it and his term expires on Dec. 31 and Mike Zaleski has agreed to do it and also has asked us to get a neutral rendering on the decision on whether it’s a highway function or it comes from the general fund,” said Councilman Tim Hubbard, who confirmed that Town Board members agreed to seek a neutral opinion on the issue. 

The leaf pickup will begin on Jan. 3 from Hulse Landing Road to the Riverhead/Brookhaven boundary, officials said. It will then, on or about Jan. 13, go from Northville Turnpike to Hulse Landing Road and finally, on or about Jan. 20, it will go from Laurel Lane to Northville Turnpike, according to the supervisor. 

“As residents are aware, it takes several weeks to go through the entire town to complete loose-leaf pickup, but it can take much longer depending on the accumulation of leaves and weather conditions,” Ms. Aguiar said in the press release. 

The town asked residents to follow these procedures to speed up the process:

• Place loose leaves on the lawn for pickup listed on scheduled days but not in the roadway.

• Keep storm drains clear to ensure proper drainage.

• Keep yard waste and branches separated from leaf piles. Branches and ornamental grasses will clog the leaf vacuum, slowing down pickup.

• Remove basketball hoops and other obstructions from the roadway edge, as these slow the pickup process and can pose a hazard to work crews.

• Keep fire hydrants clear of leaves.